By TERRI HARBER
Baker County Commissioners this week approved a two-season agreement with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife for the continued campaign to remove yellow perch from Phillips Reservoir.
According to the intergovernmental agreement, eight Merwin trap nets will be set each spring.
Work to ensure that many perch are captured this season began last Friday, March 31. That's when ice-off started, said Vince Woods, the county's facility maintenance director.
Yellow perch, a non-native species, were added illegally to the reservoir about 20 years ago and have been competing with the rainbow trout, which are stocked by the state, ever since. The trout struggle at Phillips to get enough to eat because they are overwhelmed by the perch, which reproduce in large numbers.
The ODFW manages the reservoir as a rainbow trout fishery.
It stocks 50,000 rainbow trout at Phillips each year.
The catch began on Monday. Snow on Wednesday prevented work altogether and efforts on Thursday started later than normal as bad weather also had been predicted for that part of the day.
Tim Bailey, ODFW's district fish biologist, said as of Thursday that an estimated 130,000 perch (about 28,500 pounds worth) have been removed since the capture began.
This year's conditions are still being reviewed, but last year there were an estimated 1.6 million perch in the reservoir.
The annual removal goal is 350,000 perch this year and next year. While the ODFW would prefer to take out even more perch, making accommodations at Phillips better for the trout is limited by available finances and resources.
Size of the trout has increased since the perch reduction efforts began, Bailey said. He hasn't fully evaluated their size this year, however.
"It's not our intent to rid the lake of perch," he said.
Timing of the catch is crucial. Perch need to spawn in very cold water and the temperature is optimal during the initial ice melt. They also prefer shallow water so the nets are put out near the shore. Waiting any longer to begin the capture would allow the perch to have the crushing numerical advantage over the trout later in the year.
Baker County will hire four temporary workers for three weeks - for a total of 800 hours - during this and next year's work period, which ends May 15, 2013.
The agreement itself took effect March 1 and will run through June 30, 2013.
Perch have been moved to different locations for fisherman to catch elsewhere. An organic farmer in North Powder will be using the perch caught at the reservoir as fertilizer.
Controlling the perch will require that the state pays $7956.50 each year for the next two years - a total of $15,913. Baker County is responsible for $1,500 each year, which is a total of $3,000.
Jet boats as well as the boat operators needed to do the work are supplied by Baker County.
The ODFW creates a schedule for removing the perch from the nets. It's done no more than once a day, excluding Sundays, according to the agreement.